Poetry Friday: All Roads Lead to Greece

January 12, 2007 @ 2:49 pm | Filed under: Books, Poetry

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
by John Keats

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,

    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

    Round many western islands have I been

  Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

  Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

 That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;

    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

  Then felt I like some watcher of the skies


    When a new planet swims into his ken;
 Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes


    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men

  Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—

    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The last four lines of this poem are quoted in the opening of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, which I am currently reading to my girls. I pulled out my tattered Keats and read them the whole sonnet, and we talked about our own first view of the Pacific just a few winged months ago. Rose ran for the globe, and our old friend Mr. Putty resumed his travels. First he had to trace Cortez’s path, then our own.

I love this poem. (Of course, I have yet to encounter a Keats poem I do not like. Of the Romantics, he is my favorite—his letters, his poetry, his energy. I took a course in the Romantics twice, once in college and once in grad school, largely as an excuse to indulge in long afternoons spent poring over Keats and call it "work.")

Jane noted its kinship to Dickinson’s "There Is No Frigate Like a Book," which she has memorized. So lively was our discussion that I made an impulsive decision and printed off the first few pages of The Iliad (not being able to locate my own copy right away), which I had not planned to begin with the children until spring. The moment was right, so I seized it.

"Sing, o Goddess," implores Homer, "the anger of Achilles…" What an opening! Not, sing of the war between Greece and Troy, or the kidnap of Helen, or the feast of the gods, or the golden apple; not any of the obvious openings. Sing of the anger of Achilles. Sing of his anger and what happened to his people as a result of his having been that angry. That is one killer hook.

We talked about it, the girls and I, of how anger can have such a grave impact, can set off a chain reaction like the force that pushes over the first domino. But we didn’t talk long, for Homer pulled us back. My pages broke off mid-sentence, and I was sent back to the printer by a pack of outraged girls. Printed off a few more, and got the biggest laugh of the entire day over the exchange between Calchas, seer of the Greeks, and Achilles, when Calchas says, "Sure I know why Apollo is mad at you guys! I’ll tell you who’s got him all riled up, but you have to swear to protect me when I name the name." And Achilles says, "Dude. I’ve totally got your back, even if it’s, like, Agamemnon or someone." And Calchas says, "Cool. It’s Agamemnon."

Honestly, is there anything that tickles a homeschooling mama more than hearing her kids guffaw over Homer?


This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Big A little a.


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  1. Oooh, we are starting The Odyssey in February. I am so excited. I’m glad I’m not the only one because I was beginning to feel a little odd.

  2. […] Related posts: What the Tide Brought In All Roads Lead to Greece […]